For the first time since the Reconstruction era, Republicans won the majority of seats in both Arkansas Congress and Senate on Nov. 6, and in a smaller reflection of that tide turning, a Republican was elected to a Mississippi County seat believed to be held exclusively by Democrats in the past.
Rick Ash is the newly elected Mississippi County Quorum Court Justice for District 8, and he is believed to be the first candidate to be elected to a seat on the court from the Republican ticket.
The Mississippi County area has long been an almost entirely Democratic stronghold when it comes to elected officials, and Ash said that he believes that this county level reflection of the state's changing trend isn't about some voters themselves changing, but rather realizing that their belief system doesn't quite line up with the Democratic party of today as much as it did with the party of their parents and grandparents.
"I think that a lot of people who are Democrats in this area do tend to think along a more conservative line," said Ash, who added that he was told when he filed for candidacy that he would never win if he didn't file as a Democrat. "My parents were both Democrats, but they were conservative people. I think that my father would absolutely be surprised at the Democratic party of today, on a national level."
If Arkansas and Mississippi County voters do in fact trend along with much of the south and hold conservative values, why do they continue to vote for Democratic candidates?
"I think they're holding on to party identity, but also that it's a carry over of the conservative views of most of our forefathers. We're a rural area, and most rural areas went heavily Republican because of those belief systems - less government control, less taxation, so to speak a stricter interpretation of the constitution.
"A lot of people call themselves Democrats, but when it comes down to it, they're leaning more Republican than they realize...more people are voting now based on their specific beliefs as opposed to just for a party." he said.
|It's those beliefs that Dorothy Crockett thinks are experiencing a resurgence. Crockett is the secretary for the Mississippi County Republican Party, and said that for as far back as she has been able to research, she has never seen a Republican elected to the Quorum Court until Ash.||Her opinion is that while Ash was a good candidate, there is more at play on a county and national level than just people voting for the guy they like.|
"Rick is very active and known within the community," she said, "but I think people are just tired of having one party rule the county, the state...if we have two parties active in every phase of government, they're going to watch each other, you'll have a more honest government...now everyone [in Mississippi County] has been afraid to run as a Republican because they say they can't win, but Arkansas is changing. We're a red state now."
On a statewide level, party politics come into voter's decision process probably more than on a local and county level, but Crockett said she thinks that fears some citizens have regarding national politics have reflected their voting habits on every level.
"People are tired and frightened of the direction our country is heading, a lot of us believe that our country is headed towards socialism," she said.
"The more the government gives you, the more control they have over you. I don't want that for my children and grandchildren. I believe in being self-reliant."
On the local level, Ash said that elections are much more about who the candidates are than their party affiliation.
"Some people told me, I don't vote for a Republican but I'll vote for you," he said. "I think they're voting for the person, not the party affiliation. There's a lot of people who aren't involved enough to realize what a party's platforms are and will vote the party ticket no matter what, but others are going to vote for someone because they know them, regardless of their party.
"I am not a right wing or extreme Republican, like those two Senators who made such off the wall comments [about rape and abortion], and I actually think that the swing on a state level was a little bit more towards moderate, not even the right. People have just been experiencing a lot of change they didn't want to see happen, which brought more Republicans into office."
Ash will join two more newly elected Justices, one of them an incumbent, and the rest of the Mississippi County Quorum Court next year, which will be reduced to 11 positions instead of its previous 13.